CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) No. 21 North Carolina doesn't have much room for error anymore.
The Tar Heels (6-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) emerged from a week off spent getting ready for Georgia Tech and knowing they need a perfect November - and a loss somewhere by No. 23 Virginia Tech - to earn another league title game berth.
''As much as you want to worry about what (the Hokies) have going on and who they're playing, you know that you can't let up on whoever you're playing against because one more loss for us and we're out of the hunt, no matter what happens to them,'' North Carolina cornerback Des Lawrence said Monday. ''At the same time, as bad as we want them to take a loss, we have to be able to prepare and focus on what we have to do in order for us to stay in the hunt.''
During the first two months of the season, the Tar Heels claimed four ACC victories - including a sweep of the league's Florida-based schools, both of whom were ranked at the time - to earn a share of first place in the Coastal Division.
But they continue to be haunted by their lone conference defeat.
That rainy 34-3 loss to the Hokies on Oct. 8 sure looks like it will cost North Carolina a trip to Orlando, Florida, for the league title game. Yes, Virginia Tech (6-2, 4-1) was beaten once in ACC play - Syracuse sprung an upset a week after the Hokies stunned UNC - but it took care of Miami and Pittsburgh on consecutive Thursday nights to remain in control of the division race.
''Can't control what happened in the past,'' coach Larry Fedora said. ''It's all about this week. ... It won't be about what happened. It's about, what are we going to do? We have to take care of our business.''
Even that may not be enough.
The Hokies figure to be heavy favorites the rest of the way. Their three remaining ACC opponents - Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia - have a combined league record of 3-10, and they're 10+-point favorites this week against the Blue Devils.
So all the Tar Heels can do is win the rest of their league games - beginning with this week's visit from Georgia Tech and continuing through games against neighborhood rivals Duke and N.C. State - and root for the Hokies to lose, as they did last week against Pitt . Fedora cracked a wry smile Monday when the coach said he ''was pulling for them.''
''All that matters is, we're in a position, going into the month of November, of reaching our goals,'' Fedora said. ''There's a lot of teams out there that don't have that opportunity. ... They're in a position right now where we can still reach all of our goals, and that's pretty good.''
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